Hiring a Consultant? Avoid These Seven Common Mistakes!

Here are seven common mistakes that can derail successful outcomes (and some ways to avoid them).

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Hiring a consultant or freelancer can be a smart business move. As organizations move faster and become more nimble, temporary talent can help you find answers to more significant business problems, plug holes, get an effort off to a speedy start, and provide you with the talent and expertise your regular employees lack.

I know because since 2004, I’ve seen the benefits hiring 1099 professionals can bring.

And I also know that, when poorly managed, 1099 labor can be an expensive use of money, time, and talent.

Nothing is more satisfying for me than to help my client achieve a goal, and nothing more frustrating than a failed engagement. Based on two decades of experience with over a hundred clients, here are seven common mistakes that can derail successful outcomes (and some ways to avoid them).

1. Hiring the wrong talent
2. Abdicating ownership
3. Solving the wrong problem
4. Not crafting clear outcomes or deliverables
5. Poor, spotty, or inconsistent communication
6. Not providing access to information and resources
7. Failing to review progress and adjust as needed regularly

Let’s take a deeper look at each!

Getting the RIGHT TALENT is critical. Yet this market is confusing. Do you need a freelancer, an independent consultant, or someone from a larger global firm? How do you find them? Vet them? How do you ensure you have the right fit – both in necessary skills and experience AND fit with your culture? Often you want to move quickly and at the same time, carefully.

My advice is three-fold:

1. Clearly define what you need so that your search targets the right resource.
2. Reach out to trusted people in your network for referrals and a LinkedIn search.
3. Ask your top candidates for the tangible performance of their work. It may be a portfolio, references from past clients, a live demo of a strategy, coaching, or a teaching session.

Good consultants will have past clients who are happy to refer and recommend. And they are looking just as much for a good fit as you are and will freely offer to spend a few hours (at no fee) to enable you to experience how they approach their work.

As compelling as it might be to look for the person on the white horse who will gallop into your organization and make things better with you simply observing (and covering the costs), it just doesn’t work that way. You are ultimately responsible and accountable for managing and leading. Consultants can advise and can do some of the work, but you are the one who needs to make the ultimate decisions.

You are responsible for hiring, managing performance, firing, communicating, and decision-making. You can get better at all those things with a coach or consultant by your side, but you cannot cede ownership of your role to an advisor.

Skilled consultants and coaches know there are two different types of problems: the presenting problem and the “real” problem. The presenting problem is the one that a client leads with. It is typically pretty vanilla, face-saving, and easier to talk about. The real problem is the root cause issue – one that is messier, scarier, and difficult to openly say that you don’t have a handle on this situation.

Problem examples:

Presenting Problem: This new generation just doesn’t want to work. How do we hire better help?
Real Problem: The new workforce has different career expectations, and your organization is unable to adapt to the new workforce.
Presenting Problem: Employees are resistant to change. How do we “fix” them?
Real Problem: Leaders lack the skill to lead change successfully and have forced change after change on the workforce without a compelling why, training, support, or solid communication.

Fuzzy or open-ended agreements with consultants end poorly. The consultant does their best but delivers what they think you want rather than what you were thinking. Effort is wasted, and resources are squandered. Credibility and trust are damaged. Neither you nor the consultant wants to be in this situation.

Taking the time to clearly define objectives, deliverables, timelines, and resources needed results in good outcomes – FOR ALL.

This is more challenging in complex situations, especially long-standing, puzzling, and ill-defined ones. As such, begin with a Phase One engagement for research, study, analysis, and recommendations. Skilled consultants begin with this step as they know that a well-defined problem is half-solved. They have methodologies and tools to help you see the situation from a more objective perspective. At the end of
Phase One, several things become clear. You’ll have recommendations for the next steps (from which you can select) and a better feel for how you work together.

It is a good practice to set up a regular cadence of check-ins and determine how you want the consultant to report progress, activity, and observations to you. While consultants can work very independently, the value they can provide is dependent on how robust your communication is with them. Stay in touch. Invite them to key meetings that impact their work. Introduce them to key stakeholders. Don’t hesitate to spend “white-board” or “think-tank” time with them – having open-ended conversations about the issues that really matter.

A skill good consultants develop is the ability to enter a new organization and be an exceptionally quick study. They know what to look for, what questions to ask, and do their homework quickly and efficiently. Even still, they cannot operate in a void. Your role in providing them with relevant (even if sensitive) information and clear and timely communication is a make-or-break factor in the success of the engagement.

How to begin successfully

Begin an engagement with a “data dump” – they will be able to sort through what is relevant or not. Introduce them to key stakeholders and provide some tips on organizational norms. If a longer project, consider what data sources they need access to and make that happen.

Once the project or engagement gets rolling, set up a regular cadence to review progress and make adjustments. I call these “calibration checks” with my clients, and at least quarterly (on projects that are six months or more) we sit together and assess what is working, what we’ve learned, what is not going as well as expected, and what has changed. We then make the appropriate changes or “pivots” to our original plans, ensuring that we are delivering what is really needed rather than what was envisioned months ago when we knew much less.

A top-notch consultant will guide the process to prevent you from making these mistakes:

  • They will be clear about what they can and can’t deliver – and will be happy to have you talk to past clients
  • They will only take on what is rightfully yours – and work with you to be successful in executing your responsibilities
  • They will insist that the up-front work is done to understand and better define the problem to be worked on
  • They will hammer out clear expectations, outcomes, deliverables, and dates during the proposal process
  • They will also be clear about what they need from you to be successful
  • They will be available to talk – in pre-scheduled meetings and also “in-the-moment” conversations
  • As a part of their work, they will set up regular reviews and be insistent that needed adjustments are a part of the process

Working with the “right” consultant for your situation can help you get past chronic problems or jump-start you to a higher level of performance. There’s a “magic” that happens when good progress is made on the things that really matter. Apeiron is here to help you find the right consulting partner for your needs – give us a call!

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Looking for great consultants that are committed to your success? Apeiron provides a one-stop shop to access some of the best consultants in the central Indiana area. Want to learn more? Simply submit the contact form below and we’ll find a time to learn more about your situation and how we might work together.

About the Author: Kris Taylor

Fueled by their shared passion for people-centric organizations that achieve business results, Kris Taylor joined Joe Indiano to found Apeiron, where professionals join together in an abundant, entrepreneurial community to grow sustainable businesses by collaborating together. Bringing together highly skilled consultants across functions, Apeiron is creating the “workplace of the future”, where talented professionals come together to service clients with an agile, collaborative approach to tough business problems.

Kris is also the founder of Evergreen Leadership in 2004 and has worked with over 80 companies across the US to develop customized leadership development programs focused on 21st-century skills.  Evergreen Leadership is known for its high-impact retreats, coaching, and learning programs, specializing in fostering agility, collaboration, relationship building, accountability, creativity, and innovation.

Kris writes, speaks, teaches, and coaches leaders at all levels, from the C-suite to high-potential emerging leaders. She is committed to giving back in meaningful ways, most visibly with Evergreen’s Annual Community Builder Award. Since 2015, fifteen leaders across the mid-west have come together for the Connect and Create Retreat.

Her many years of work experience are rich in variety – beginning in education and non-profit for ten years before making a career change with RR Donnelley. In this Fortune 200 company, she fulfilled many roles from Human Resources to Operations to a corporate role in Learning and Development over fourteen years.

On the faculty of Purdue’s Certificate Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation for seven years, Kris developed and taught a course on consulting, as well as a course entitled Your Entrepreneurial Career. Kris is also the author of author of Owning It: Take Control of Your Life, Work and Career and  The Leader’s Guide to Turbulent Times: a practical, easy-to-use guide to leading in today’s times. She holds a Master’s Degree from Krannert Business School at Purdue University and did her undergraduate work at West Virginia University. 

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